In a state that makes headlines for the wrong reasons and sports celebrities are few and far between, Faisal Ali Dar's name comes as a whiff of fresh air. When the government of India revealed the list of Padma awardees for 2022 on the eve of Republic Day on January 26, there were names that did not surprise and there were a few, who were not the quintessential 'famous' types. Faisal Ali Dar was one among those in the second category. (More Sports News)
The 33-year-old from Bandipora was awarded the Padma Shri for service to promote sports through martial arts and his crusade to keep youths away from drugs.
District Bandipora often makes news. The district has a village - Vewan - that has received 100 per cent vaccination against the COVID-19 virus.
Faisal Ali Dar has made Bandipora famous for good reasons. Jammu and Kashmir's real connection with Indian sports can be counted on your fingers. While the Srinagar-based football team Real Kashmir plays the I-League with a lot of fanfare, current cricketers like Abdul Samad, Umran Malik and Parvez Rasool, are fairly well known. Jammu and Kashmir have had national footballers like Mehrajuddin Wadoo and Abdul Majeed Kakroo but the state's full potential has never been tapped.
Under the circumstances, Dar's work has been praiseworthy. Dar's work has been appreciated by President of India Ram Nath Kovind's secretariat. In a letter, the President's office has written: "We commend the contribution made by you for creating and promoting sports environment. It is hoped that your success story will spur other initiatives across the country."
Interestingly, Faisal Ali Dar’s selection for Padma Shri award has surprised many in the government. Senior officials of the sports council say they were completely unaware. Once Dar made news, he is getting calls from officials wanting to know more about his sporting activities.
“Getting Padma Shri award is an achievement. It is the fruit of my decades of hard work. In Jammu and Kashmir, no one has got this award in the sports category. That is why I am feeling happy and elated,” said Dar, adding, “it is a proud moment for me, my parents, my friends, my teachers and my students.”
A CAREER MOVE
So, who is Faisal Ali Dar?
Dar had been taking interest in different forms of martial art since his school days. Soon after completing his graduation from Bandipora Degree College in 2008, Dar preferred to devote himself fully to martial arts and didn’t apply for any government job. He felt the government job will restrict his time and will not allow him to do sports-related activities.
In 2003, Faisal Ali Dar started his career in wushu, a form of martial arts. However, it didn’t take off. He switched to kickboxing in 2008. Two years later, he got a medal in the Asian kickboxing championship. This encouraged him to start martial arts coaching in Bandipora town.
Three years later, he started the Ali Sports Academy in Bandipora. Named after his grandfather, the martial arts academy has units in almost every district but without proper infrastructure. In 2013, at the Bandipora unit, around 150 children were enrolled. It inspired Dar to open more schools in other districts.
Dar would imitate famous kung-fu superstar Bruce Lee’s moves and practice them in the beautiful Bandipora cricket ground along with his friends and young students. He would also visit different schools to motivate youths to take up martial arts.
Mohammad Faesal Rather, 21, joined Dar’s training programme after the young coach gave a lecture in his school at Ajas area of Bandipora in 2009. “I was mesmerised by his devotion to martial arts. He spoke passionately and that day, I made up my mind to be part of his training programmes,” said Rather.
Rather regularly visited Faesal’s training programme and on April 28, 2019, he participated in the South Asian Karate Championship held in New Delhi. A Pencak Silat Federation Cup medallist in 2020, Rather completed his graduation in music this year but he has a dream to play in the Olympics. “Music is my passion and martial arts my profession and Faisal sir my guide,” he said.
Abida Akhtar, 29, also got attracted to martial arts after Faisal Ali Dar did a demonstration in her school way back in 2009. Hailing from the remote Gojarpatti area of the district, Abida started regularly attending Dar’s open-air classes and later became part of the Ali Sports Academy. She would trek five kilometres in rough terrain and travel another eight km to attend his training.
In July 2017, Abida, who trained in wushu, won a silver medal in the 48 kg category at an international meet in Malaysia. It was a great moment for Abida and her family. She was only 18 months old when her father Khushi Mohammad, a cop in the Jammu and Kashmir Police, was killed by militants.
In 2016, one of Dar’s students Tajamul Islam became the first Kashmiri girl to represent India (sub-junior category) in the world kickboxing championships in Italy. She was seven then. Tajamul is also from Bandipora and had joined Dar’s academy in 2014.
SAY NO TO DRUGS
Dar claims 13,000 students are enrolled in his sports academy across districts. He charges Rs 50 per year from each student. Usually, Dar visits different schools and motivates students interested in sports to take up martial arts rather than play cricket.
While martial arts training is his main bread and butter, Dar plays a massive role in social service. Dar participates in drug de-addiction programmes and has over the years helped many youngsters to give up drugs.
“I organise drug de-addiction programmes. I motivate youngsters to give up drugs and join his academy. I have motivated around 50 youngsters to give up drugs.”
“I visit people and ask parents to allow their children to be part of martial arts. Many agree and send their children to the academy. Many think martial arts has no future and cricket does,” Dar signs off.